UI's Alexis Hernandez balances academics, athletics, and motherhood

Alexis Hernandez has graduated from the University of Iowa and been a star on the track team - all while raising her 20-month-old daughter, Peyton. (Photo courtesy of Alexis Hernandez)

Every track has its curves that runners have to navigate.

For Alexis Hernandez, the track of life threw her for a loop the day after Christmas in 2014.

"They did an ultrasound and I was like, 'OK, this is kind of real,'" she says.

The San Diego, California native was a sophomore at Iowa running track - and pregnant.

"I think I cried and paced back and forth for about an hour, went home, and acted like everything was OK," Alexis says. "It was like, 'OK, now what?'"

Even with motherhood looking back at her, Alexis vowed to stay in school - and stay on the track team.

"I never looked at it like something that was impossible," she says. "I knew it would be hard, but I also knew I wanted to do it - for myself and for her."

"Her" is Alexis's daughter Peyton - born on August 23, 2015.

"She's my light," Alexis beams. "She has given me so much purpose in life."

The 20-month-old is "just full of so much personality," according to her mother - and "her smile brightens up the room." Like most toddlers, Peyton is a big fan of snacks and "Doc McStuffins."

"I think being a 22-year-old - we're all still trying to find our purpose and find our drive," Alexis says, "but having Peyton has given me that purpose."

That purpose has helped Alexis defy the odds. She ran for the Hawkeyes' 1600-meter relay squad that won a Big Ten title in 2016 and just helped Iowa to a Drake Relays crown in the 400-meter relay in April. This past weekend, she received her college degree - on time, with no delay from balancing motherhood with studying, training, and competing.

"The moment I got pregnant, I became a statistic," Alexis says. "And the day I graduated college, I proved that statistic wrong."

Her story has gone beyond the borders of the Hawkeye State. espnW featured Alexis in an article last week. That stemmed from a tweet from Alexis that has been retweeted more than 37,000 times - and liked more than a quarter million times.

Alexis's message and accomplishments have made her a beacon of hope for many.

"Having other young girls and just other students reach out to me and say, 'You know, I'm a mom as well. How did you do it? Because of you, I think that I can do it too.' I think that's really rewarding," she says, "and I just want other mothers to know that they can do it."

Staying on track has certainly paid off for Alexis and Peyton.

"I just sit there and wonder what amazing things she's going to do in this lifetime," Alexis says, "and I really hope when she gets older, she can look back on all that we've been through and just be proud of who her mom is and what we've done together."

"I just want her to know I did it all for her and it wasn't easy, but we made it through."

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